ARCHIVED - How should I eat to reduce my risk of cancer?


Research shows that 30 to 35% of all cancers can be prevented by eating well, being active, and maintaining a healthy body weight. People who are overweight are at greater risk for cancer and other health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

  • Follow Canada's Food Guide

    Eating different foods makes it easier to get all the nutrients you need for good health. Making healthy choices will help you eat healthier fats, more fibre, and less salt. For a healthy diet, choose foods from the food groups described in Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide. Obesity is a risk factor for many cancers. Restricting caloric intake and increased physical activity are important to control obesity.

  • As appropriate, eat less

    A majority of Canadians are overweight or obese. Obesity is a risk factor for many cancers. Restricting caloric intake and increased physical activity are important to controlling obesity.

  • Choose 5 to 10 servings of vegetables and fruit every day

    One of the most important things you can do to improve your diet is to eat 5 to 10 servings of vegetables and fruit each day. Vegetables and fruits supply your body with a whole range of cancer fighting compounds such as phytochemicals and antioxidants.

  • Go for high fibre foods

    Fibre is the part of plant foods that your body cannot digest. Although the association between fibre and risk of cancer is inconclusive, eating more high fibre foods is a healthy choice. When combined with a low fat diet, eating more fibre could reduce the risk of heart disease and chronic diseases, including cancer.

  • Choose healthy fats

    Everyone needs some fat in their diet - it's the kind of fat and amount that you choose to include that's important. Unsaturated fats are a healthy choice because they seem to protect against diseases such as heart disease and cancer. A healthy diet is low in saturated and trans fats. Saturated fats and trans fats (partly hydrogenated fat) are potentially harmful fats that may increase blood cholesterol levels and possibly increase the risk of cancer. Limit added fat to 30 to 45 mL (2 to 3 tablespoons) of healthy (unsaturated) fat each day.

  • Reduce your exposure to charred meats

    Meat, poultry and seafood should be cooked thoroughly to destroy any germs that could cause disease. Cooking meat at high temperatures, however, creates certain chemicals (called heterocyclic amines, or HCAs) that may cause cancer. When fat from meat, poultry or fish burns, chemicals are formed that are deposited onto the food from the smoke.

    • Ideally, cook meat, poultry, and seafood at lower temperatures by braising, stewing, steaming or roasting.

    If you barbecue, choose leaner cuts of meat, poultry, and seafood. Trim off visible fat. This will reduce the amount of harmful chemicals that develop from the smoke created by burning fat. Minimize consumption of red meat and processed meat.

    • To prevent charring, barbecue slowly and keep the food away from the hot coals so that flames are less likely to engulf the food.
    • Studies have shown that marinating meat, even for just 10-20 minutes, can prevent the formation of cancer-causing chemicals by as much as 90%. Use an oil-free marinade that contains a strong acid like lemon juice or balsamic vinegar.
  • Alcohol

    Research shows that drinking small amounts of alcohol can be good for your heart. However, too much alcohol is known to damage the liver and promote high blood pressure. Alcohol increases the risk of breast, colorectal, liver and oral cancers.

    If you choose to drink alcohol, limit the amount you drink.

    • women: don't drink every day. On days that you do drink, don't drink more than one to two drinks a day, and no more than nine drinks a week. Pregnant women should not drink alcohol at all.
    • men: have no more than 2 drinks a day.

    A drink is:

    • one 341 mL (12 oz) bottle of beer (5% alcohol)
    • one 142 mL (5 oz) glass of wine (12% alcohol)
    • one 43 mL (1.5 oz) shot of spirits (40% alcohol)

Additional resources

Adapted from material prepared by the Canadian Cancer Society. This information appeared originally on the Canadian Health Network Web site and has been edited for publication by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Page details

Date modified: